Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Find a CSA near you

If you haven't heard the term CSA before, now is a good time to learn a little about it, because the summer sign-ups are starting.

If you have, then don't worry, I'll keep this short.

In my own words, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a way that members of a community can join together to support a farm and its farmer(s) and reap its benefits. The farms draw members from a small local area. They usually ask for a lump sum payment from each member at the beginning of the season (and sometimes even a few days of labor) for the purpose of supporting the farm and its workers through that season, and in return, distribute their wares to each member in installments. When you buy a CSA share, that is really what you are buying ... a share, as opposed to a regular guaranteed delivery of vegetables. If the farm has a little trouble due to weather, you'll get less of a share; if the veggies are great that year, you'll get a little more.

Having said all that, there are thousands of CSAs in the US, operating on many different models and for many different types of farms, including everything from veggies, fruit, flowers to coffee, bread, milk and meat.

What is the motive behind all of this? To build a network of local, small scale, non-industrial farms in your area. These farms will supply you with healthier, often organic, food that is grown in your own backyard rather than being trucked in from thousands of miles away. Long term, you're guaranteeing that this supply will be around because by giving a guaranteed payment to a farm at the beginning of the season, they'll become more stable than if they were to strictly sell produce at farmer's markets, especially in a problematic season. And an additional bonus is that you're supporting your local economy.

Believe it or not, the USDA estimated based on data collected that in 2007 there were 12,459 farms in the US selling through a CSA arrangement1. This movement is growing. Maybe someday it will actually be more common to buy food locally than from the supermarket.

A few resources - The USDA has an interesting older article on the origin of CSAs as well as many up to date references and Local Harvest is a great website for finding a CSA near you.

So which CSA did we go with? If you've been reading this blog, you can guess that we are in awe of the veggies from Abbondanza. We did a fall CSA with them last year and had great luck - beautiful, delicious produce and a lot of it. It is $650 for 22 weeks.

But I don't think we can expect that this will always be the case. Our summer experience wasn't quite as good. We joined a different farm, that I'd prefer not to mention. Maybe we just weren't in the right mindset (which is why I'd rather withhold their name). It's hard not to look at the price you're paying per week, especially when you've just picked up chard and pea shoots for the 3rd week in a row and compare it to the price you'd pay at the supermarket for a week's worth of veg. It's hard to remind yourself that you're not in it for the deal - you're in it for building a long term, sustainable food supply. I guess what we objected to was the selection of produce grown - either Colorado produce takes some getting used to or they grew weird stuff.

Having said all that, I'm very excited for this year. Even if it turns out exactly the same as last year, I'll have a better idea of what to expect and what to do with the food. (Put the chard in the trade basket!)

In fact, this summer I plan to feature a vegetable of the week centered around what I got in my pickup. It'll all be very exciting!

So, in summary- join a CSA and do it now, they fill up fast

Ok, one more thing... what is the deal with snap peas? Every CSA around here features them prominently. Last summer there were basket loads at every stand at the Farmer's Market (31 days!). People seem to refer to them in reverential tones. WHY? They are not nice at all. To me, they taste like sugar water in a fibrous green shell. Whereas fresh English peas are simply divine, seem to be growable around here, and are quite hard to find! Ok, rant over. Goodnight.

1USDA website on Community Supported Agriculture

1 Responses (Leave a Comment):

Nicole Marie said...

I love chard! It's really tasty and good for you.

It's probably a good idea to research the farm to which you're planning to subscribe. See if you can find out what previous shares have contained...that'll help you see if they're growing things you want to eat. The farm for the CSA near me (living in an urban area, my choices were pretty limited) posts the shares for the past three years:


Also, not just for veggies! My CSA has options for fruit, flowers and eggs.